Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
RALEIGH, N.C. –- In the visiting locker room in the bowels of Carter-Finley Stadium, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the rest of the Gamecocks gave their defense a standing ovation, not to mention half the game balls for their role in the 7-3 win over NC State.
“We all realized they won the game for us tonight,” Spurrier said.
South Carolina’s speed and athleticism on defense smothered the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, quarterback Russell Wilson, and forced the Pack into numerous mistakes. The Gamecocks controlled the line of scrimmage, pressured Wilson all night and were the difference in a game during which both offenses struggled to sustain drives.
How much credit does the defense really deserve?
“All of it,” said quarterback Stephen Garcia. “All of it. They’ve held NC State to three points in two years. That’s not a bad offense. That’s not a bad team. That’s pretty damn good football team. Thank God we have a good defense, a very fast defense, too.”
Despite being coached by Spurrier, whose reputation was built on his offense, South Carolina showed on Thursday night that its identity right now is on defense. Spurrier, as he’s done on many occasions before, said after the game he’s going to get more involved in the offense, but it’s not like he can go out there and score the points for them. Consider it a work in progress.
“We’re a struggling offensive team right now,” Spurrier said, “but if we can get those guys going, get our guys going, I think we have a chance to have a real good season. … We’ve got to find some offense somehow.”
South Carolina’s defense didn’t just make routine plays, it made game-changing plays, and redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Taylor made two of them in his debut. On his first collegiate play, he forced a fumble that was recovered by Eric Norwood, leading to Brian Maddox’s touchdown in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, he blocked a punt on NC State’s second possession.
Norwood had two sacks and eight tackles, and Cliff Matthews had five tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. Both of those players hover around a 4.5 40-yard dash. The offense, meanwhile, was 1-of-4 in the red zone, couldn’t score from the 10-yard line, and missed a 27-yard field goal.
“Anytime you’re traveling, you’ve got to pack your defense,” said defensive tackle Travian Robertson. “It doesn’t matter if the offense is down, we’ve still gotta bring our defense, because if the other team doesn’t score, they ain’t going to win. We’ve got to bring our defense no matter what. Our offense is going to be alright. The defense just has to keep staying humble and keep making plays out there.”
In all, South Carolina held NC State to 1.9 yards per carry and 59 yards rushing. The Pack was successful on just 5 of 14 third-down conversions and finished with 133 yards of total offense. In eight quarters, dating back to last year’s season opener, NC State has scored just three points against South Carolina. And Wilson is supposed to be the best quarterback the conference has to offer. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 74 yards. He didn’t get the help he needed up front, and his receivers dropped some on-the-money passes – including one in the end zone - but the Gamecocks deserve some of the credit for flustering them.
“I told our defensive coaches that we might have the top team in the nation in total defense the way we played tonight,” Spurrier said. “We only allowed 133 yards – that’s unbelievable. Our offensive team was OK, but our defense had a super night.”
And in a sloppy season opener, they were the only ones who did.